Posts Tagged ‘WWI reading challenge’

I can’t believe I’m already wrapping up my 2012 reading challenges.  It seems like I say this every year, but this year just flew by.  Here’s a break-down of my challenge progress:

hosted by War Through the Generations

I signed up for the Wade level of 4-10 books for the 2012 World War I Reading Challenge at War Through the Generations, which I co-hosted with Serena.  I wish I would’ve had more time to read all the World War I books on my shelf, but at least I completed the challenge.

1. The Gendarme by Mark T. Mustian
2. Mr. Darcy’s Angel of Mercy by Mary Lydon Simonsen
3. The Beauty and the Sorrow by Peter Englund
4. A Long, Long Way by Sebastian Barry
5. A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear
6. The Penguin Book of World War I Poetry edited by Jon Silkin
7. The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey
8. Shadows Walking by Douglas R. Skopp
9. Archie’s War by Marcia Williams
10. My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young
11. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
12. Overseas by Beatriz Williams

hosted by Existing’s Tricky

I signed up for the Explore the Many Genres of Jane Austen Challenge because I liked the idea of reading Austenesque novels in different categories.  The challenge was hosted by Shanna from Existing’s Tricky, who passed away in April.  Her passing made me determined to complete the challenge in honor of her love of reading.  I completed the challenge by reading a total of 8 books.

1. Variation:  Henry Tilney’s Diary by Amanda Grange
2. Sequel:  The Three Colonels by Jack Caldwell
3. Jane Austen as a Fictional Character:  Searching for Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe
4. Paranormal:  Emma and the Vampires by Jane Austen and Wayne Josephson
5. Modern Adaptation:  Dreaming of Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly
6. Mystery:  The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy by Regina Jeffers
7. Supporting Characters:  The Unexpected Miss Bennet by Patrice Sarath
8. Books by Jane Austen:  Emma by Jane Austen

hosted by Historical Tapestry

I signed up for the Severe Bookaholism level of 20 books for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2012 at Historical Tapestry.  Once again, I was an overachiever and completed the challenge with 43 books.  I don’t think it’s much of a challenge for me to read historical fiction, but I challenge myself to see how many books in this genre I can read in one year.

1. The Gendarme by Mark T. Mustian
2. The Last Nude by Ellis Avery
3. Catalyst by Paul Byers
4. Summer of My German Solider by Bette Greene
5. The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy
6. The Golden Hour by Margaret Wurtele
7. A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry
8. My Secret War Diary by Marcia Williams
9. A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear
10. The Last Storyteller by Frank Delaney
11. Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin
12. The Three Colonels by Jack Caldwell
13. The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose
14. The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey
15. The Music in Her Mind by Robert Gilkes
16. Obedience by Jacqueline Yallop
17. Shadows Walking by Douglas R. Skopp
18. City of Thieves by David Benioff
19. I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits
20. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
21. The Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer
22. The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley
23. Archie’s War by Marcia Williams
24. The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalla
25. My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young
26. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
27. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
28. The Shadow Children by Steven Schnur, illustrated by Herbert Tauss
29. Flight From Berlin by David John
30. Across the Mekong River by Elaine Russell
31. The Siren of Paris by David LeRoy
32. The Mirrored World by Debra Dean
33. The Time of Women by Elena Chizhova
34. Khatyn by Ales Adamovich
35. The Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony
36. The Soldier’s Wife by Margaret Leroy
37. A Parachute in the Lime Tree by Annemarie Neary
38. The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap by Paulette Mahurin
39. Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
40. Princess Elizabeth’s Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal
41. The Violin of Auschwitz by Maria Àngels Anglada
42. None But the Brave by Anthony A. Goodman
43. The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman

hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

I signed up to read at least 1 book for the 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge at Savvy Verse & Wit.  I completed the challenge, reading a total of 7 books.

1. Mountain Intervals, Poems From the Frost Place 1977-1986 edited by Donald Sheehan
2. The Penguin Book of WWI Poetry edited by Jon Silkin
3. Catalina by Laurie Soriano
4. What Looks Like an Elephant by Edward Nudelman
5. Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems by Emma Eden Ramos
6. Sonics in Warholia by Megan Volpert
7. Beyond the Scent of Sorrow by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

hosted by Suko’s Notebook

I signed up to read 1 book for The Jodi Picoult Project at Suko’s Notebook, and I completed the challenge by reading the Jodi Picoult book that had been sitting on my shelf unread for too long.

1. Second Glance by Jodi Picoult

I think keeping my challenge participation to a minimum meant that I was able to finish them all this year.  Let’s see if I can keep to that in 2013.  I’ll be posting my 2013 reading challenges later today.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Public library
Rating: ★★★★★

I’d had to learn everything from pounds, shillings, and pence to the proper technique for securing a hat with a single long pin; I’d borne all of it under the bruising weight of an impossibly profound grief.  And my brain was at last getting used to it all–to the foreignness, of course, but also the unexpected fact that it was so…ordinary.  Strange, without all the modern machines and clothes and conveniences, and yet familiar.  Bread tasted like bread.  Rain fell as wetly as ever.

Julian was still Julian.

(from Overseas, page 19)

I’m not a big fan of romances, but after reading Mrs. Q’s review of Overseas, I knew I had to get my hands on this book, and I immediately put it on hold at the library.  Beatriz William’s story of a timeless love and time travel set in Amiens, France, on the Western Front of World War I in 1916 and on Wall Street in 2008 hooked me from the first page, and thankfully I had no plans this past Sunday because I spent the entire day just eating up this book.

Overseas is narrated by 25-year-old investment banker Kate Wilson, who has worked hard to land a position in the Capital Markets department of Sterling Bates and sworn off men in the process.  She keeps her cool in an atmosphere of butt-kissing and back-stabbing, but she’s caught off guard when Julian Laurence, the billionaire head of a hedge fund, shows an interest in her, then just as suddenly disappears from her life.  Their paths cross a few months later, and there’s no denying that the attraction between them is still there.

Julian is very gentlemanly and old fashioned, a man who longs to take care of the woman he loves, but Kate is a modern, independent woman.  When a scandal erupts at Sterling Bates, it pains Kate to have to seek shelter with Julian, who senses a danger that he can’t possibly explain to Kate.  He’ll do whatever it takes to protect her and take care of her needs, even insisting that all of his money and possessions also are hers, but Kate finds it all a bit stifling.

At the same time that Williams takes readers through all the ups and downs of Julian and Kate’s relationship, she also transports them back to the Great War, telling the story of Captain Ashford, a famous war poet, and the woman who loves him so much she’ll do anything to prevent him from going back to the front.  The way in which Williams merges the two stories kept me on the edge of my seat, and just when I thought I had it all figured out, she’d surprise me again.

Overseas is one of those books that requires readers to just go with the flow, to not think too much about the why and the how.  Even when the professions of undying devotion got to be a bit too much, even when I felt that the secondary characters could have been better developed, I was still captivated by this story and had to know how it would all play out.  Williams made me care about Kate and Julian and made me believe their story, no matter how unbelievable it really was.  I honestly was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book; it definitely has its flaws, but it offered some mindless fun for a lazy afternoon.

Book 12 for the WWI Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I borrowed Overseas from the public library.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Review copy from Harper
Rating: ★★★★★

Purefoy kept throwing; kept throwing.  He threw for weeks, for months.  At some stage he was given proper grenades and a helmet, though they all learnt to piss on a handkerchief to breathe through long before gas masks came around.  One night he saw Captain Harper flying across the sky like a whirling starfish before shattering into a flaming shell crater, and he put the sight in that special part of his brain he would never go to again, fed it through the greedy slot in the forever unopenable door.  His thoughts jumped like fleas, like drops of water on a hot plate, uncatchable, inexplicable.

(from My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, pages 46-47)

I’m going to have such a hard time picking my list of the best books I read this year if I keep adding to the list of contenders, but here’s another one that simply cannot be ignored.  My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young is a haunting tale of love and war set in England and France during World War I, full of descriptions that are both beautiful and horrifying.

Young centers her story on two young couples.  Being hit by a snowball as a young boy forever changes the life of working-class Riley Purefoy, whose chance meeting with the upper-class Waveney family and an artist puts him on the path toward bettering himself.  But when Riley and Nadine Waveney fall in love, he learns that it is virtually impossible to cross the class divide and that her parents would never accept their relationship.  In 1914, Riley impulsively joins the army, figuring that if he’s killed, Nadine’s parents won’t have to worry about him anymore, but he also could return as an officer and a gentleman worthy of the woman he loves.

Young follows Nadine as she joins the Voluntary Aid Detachment as part of the war effort, thinking about every injured soldier as if he was Riley and keeping in mind the nurses at the front who may or may not be caring for him.  She also puts readers into the trenches with Riley, where he befriends his commanding officer, Peter Locke, whose wife, Julia, is not fit for war work so spends all of her time making sure she and their house are beautiful for when he returns home.  Peter’s cousin, Rose, a woman who has resigned herself to being single, works as a nurse, and it is through her that the paths of all of these characters will cross.

I absolutely loved My Dear I Wanted to Tell You from the very beginning.  Young’s writing is just about perfect, from her masterful use of description to her ability to portray the inner turmoil of so many unique characters all at once.  She skillfully paints a picture of a society being changed by the war, with women becoming more ambitious and independent and more willing to talk about and embrace their sexuality.  The female characters are all quite different, with Rose professing no need for marriage and even becoming a smoker, Nadine wanting to break free from the responsibilities forced upon her by her family’s societal standing and to travel and be an artist, and Julia wanting nothing more than to be a good and beautiful wife.

At the same time, she gets into the heads of Riley and Peter and shows how they process the horrible things they witness on the battlefield, whether thinking of themselves as non-existent when in the midst of the chaos or turning to women and drink to forget the painful images.  Regardless of how they cope, Young emphasizes an important truth, that they and their relationships with their wives and girlfriends will never be the same again.  Nadine understands Riley to a certain extent due to her VAD work, but Julia has a hard time coping with the changes she sees in her husband and his distance from the romantic life they once shared.

I was surprised by how quickly I became invested in these characters and how real they and their experiences felt to me.  Although a love story at its core, the war and its impact is so vivid and so well portrayed that the romance really takes a back seat to everything else (which is why I think the hardcover image is a better representation of the story than the paperback cover at the beginning of this post).  Young also goes into great detail about the facial reconstruction surgeries pioneered at the hospital in Sidcup, which was fascinating but hard to read.

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You is a novel that really gets to the heart of what it means to go to war and how nothing will ever be the same again for both the soldiers and their loved ones, even if they are lucky enough to come home.  Young doesn’t shy away from describing the horrific things that happen in war, including the fear that prompted some soldiers to go to great lengths to escape the fighting, and she also emphasizes the home front, from the misinformation in the newspapers to the impact of the war on a marriage.  If you haven’t read too much about WWI or simply want to read a book rich with history, beautiful writing, and surprisingly real characters (and you aren’t afraid of the darkness and intensity that accompany depictions of war), then you must give this one a try.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the blog tour for My Dear I Wanted to Tell You.  To follow the tour, click here.

Book 10 for the WWI Reading Challenge

Book 25 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received My Dear I Wanted to Tell You from Harper for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Borrowed from Serena
Rating: ★★★★☆

Now all fit men between the ages of 18 and 41 have to join the forces.  It’s called conscription.  If you are not wearing a disablement or discharge badge, you get shouted at in the street.  Or even given a white feather.  It’s happened to our Ron and he’s only 15 years old.

(from Archie’s War, page 26)

After reading (and loving) the fictional World War II diary of Flossie Albright a couple of months ago, I knew I had to go back and read the World War I scrapbook of her father, Archie.  Archie’s War: My Scrapbook of The First World War 1914-1918 looks just like a scrapbook kept by a young boy.  Archie Albright is 10 years old when his uncle Colin gives him this scrapbook, and only a few pages into his colorful comics and drawings, after he’s introduced his family, best friend Tom, and Georgie the dog, Austria declares war on Serbia, then Germany and Austria declare war on Russia.  When Germany invades Belgium and Britain joins the war, Archie’s life begins to change, and he will use his scrapbook to chronicle his wartime experiences.

Archie’s scrapbook isn’t all fun and games, especially as his uncle Teddy and then his father join the fighting, his mother and sister join the workforce, and food grows increasingly scarce, and readers never forget that he’s a young boy coming of age during what was supposed to be the “war to end all wars.”  Alongside the newspaper clippings and historical tidbits, author Marcia Williams includes vibrant comics depicting the soldiers on the front and the changes back home, among the most sad being the treatment of Archie’s German neighbors in East London.

Williams does a wonderful job merging the history of the war with the antics of a young boy, who at a tender age must learn about loss, fear, shell shock, and hunger but also finds hope and happiness in the countryside.  Archie’s War makes learning the history of The Great War fun for children and adults alike, with letters to be unfolded and read, various postcards and other items from the period, and countless illustrations that are both informative and entertaining.  Williams personalizes the war, letting readers see what happened through the eyes of a young boy who feels so very real.  Best of all, this slim, oversized paperback is made to look and feel like a real scrapbook, and I’m sure with a re-read, you’d find lots of little things that you missed the first time around.

Book 9 for the WWI Reading Challenge

Book 23 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I borrowed Archie’s War from Serena.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★★

Although I managed to escape the Nazi trap for a while — thanks to you, Helga, more than to any great wisdom on my part — eventually I was blinded by my selfishness.  I let my own angers and fears ensnare me and become my master.  The demon was not Hitler.  It was me.

(from Shadows Walking, page 173)

Shadows Walking is a detailed character study that spans the world wars and focuses on a physician who must come to terms with the horrific things he’s done.  Set right after World War II in Nuremberg during the war crimes trial of nearly two dozen Nazi doctors, the novel focuses on Johann Brenner, a physician turned custodian who writes a letter to his wife to explain how he got caught up in Nazi politics and allowed himself to violate the Hippocratic Oath. Author Douglas R. Skopp presents readers with a portion of the letter at the start of each chapter, then takes readers back in time to show the man Johann was and the idealistic life he lived before World War I and how the economic downturn in the wake of Germany’s defeat and the war reparations sparked so much anger and shame and paved the way for Hitler and the Nazi Party to take control, building the nation up before leading it and its people to ruin.

Skopp shows how Johann was slowly pulled toward the Nazis, how overzealous patriotism was rampant following World War I, how his studies led him to the field of eugenics, and how he so easily came to believe the arguments that Jews (and gypsies and people of mixed race, etc.) were polluting the Fatherland and were to blame for all of Germany’s ills.  He describes how shops went out of business and food became scarce, and he personalizes all this by having it happen to Johann and his family.

But not everyone falls under Hitler’s spell.  Johann’s wife, Helga, is distressed by her son’s excitement with the Hitler Youth and urges Johann not to join the Party, and Skopp juxtaposes Johann’s experiences as an “ordinary” German with the experiences of his best friend, Philipp Stein.  Philipp grew up in the same town as Johann and also became a physician, but as a German Jew, his experiences are dramatically different than Johann’s.  With the Nazis in power, Johann’s personal and professional horizons are broadened, but Philipp’s world gets smaller and smaller.

Skopp performed years of research to write Shadows Walking, and it shows.  There is so much history within these pages, and Skopp does a great job merging the fictional characters with the real people, from Karl Brandt to Josef Mengele.  The only problem I had with the book was the passage of time.  If I wasn’t familiar with the events leading up and through World War II, I wouldn’t have known how much time had passed between chapters and what year the characters were in.  But that’s only a minor issue with a book that likely will make my list of favorite books read during 2012.

Shadows Walking addresses how people could believe the Nazi propaganda, how they could believe that Jews were less than human, and how and why doctors could willingly harm their patients.  It wasn’t an easy book to read, having to get inside Johann’s head and see why he does the things he does.  It’s like you can understand how he could do it, what led him to do it, but at the same time you don’t and could never understand him, if that makes any sense.  And with detailed descriptions of medical experiments, it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.  About halfway through the book, I had to put it down and read something lighter, but I also couldn’t wait to get back to it because I wanted to know what happened.

This book made me sad, angry, and sick to my stomach.  I hated Johann, his faulty thought processes, and his evil actions, and I also hated that by the end of the book, I realized there had been times when I felt sorry for him.  Of course, the extent of my sympathy toward him was nowhere near the sorrow I felt for the victims, but the fact that I felt it at all was disturbing.  But I think that’s what Skopp intended, for readers to see that people just like you and me got caught up in all the madness.  Johann was smart, he was a decent husband and father who worked hard to support his family, and he had the same worries about money and health that we all have.  Yet Johann was a Nazi, he was so quick to blame other people for his problems, and he took it all to the extreme.  No one wants to believe they could ever sink as low as Johann did; just the mere thought of it is downright frightening.

Shadows Walking is a heavy, heavy book, but I highly recommend it if you want to delve deeper into medical ethics during World War II or see just how the post-World War I environment set the stage for the Holocaust.  I know some readers are wary of self-published novels, but I want to stress that this book is well researched and well written.  Skopp told me that he decided to self-publish after he became ill, realizing he’d rather get his book out there sooner rather than later.  It’s the kind of book you want to talk about while reading — believe me, my husband knows all about that! — and it’s the kind of book that will haunt you long after you’ve finished it.  For more information about the historical aspects of the novel, visit Skopp’s website.

Courtesy of the author, I am offering three signed copies of Shadows Walking to readers with U.S. addresses.  Those who are interested will have three opportunities to win:  by commenting on this review and on part one and part two of the guest post by Douglas Skopp.  I will choose one winner from the pool of commenters on each post.  Simply leave a comment on this post about what intrigues you most about the book, and be sure to include your e-mail address.  This giveaway will close at 11:59 pm EST on Sunday, May 13, 2012.

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

Book 8 for the WWI Reading Challenge

Book 17 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received Shadows Walking from the author for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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I would not get over it.  It was a small betrayal, I know, but it is the first betrayal that hurts the most.  It is the first betrayal that slays innocence and leaves a scar that is never forgotten.

(from The Yellow House, page 146)

The Yellow House is a beautifully written novel about a young girl coming of age during World War I and the Irish War of Independence.  Patrica Falvey first grabbed my attention with her second novel, The Linen Queen, set during World War II, but this, her debut novel, was even better.  Falvey isn’t a rambling, Frank Delaney-style storyteller, but she weaves a tale of Ireland’s history and struggles that is every bit as captivating.

Eileen O’Neill spent her childhood listening to her da’s stories about the great warrior O’Neills, and with her fiery red hair, quick temper, and sharp tongue, she is determined to follow in their footsteps.  Her great-grandfather, revered with an empty chair by the fire, won the family home from the wealthy Sheridan family during a card game.  When she is 8 years old, her da, much to the chagrin of her mother, spends their scant funds on cans of yellow paint — creating the Yellow House that will both drive and haunt Eileen for years to come.

The death of her younger sister sparks a chain of events that tears the O’Neill family apart.  Eileen is just a teenager when she is left alone with her youngest sibling to make her way in the world.  Forced out of the Yellow House, Eileen takes a job at the Sheridan family’s mill, vowing to one day buy back the house of her happiest memories and reunite her family.

The issue of Home Rule pits the nationalist Catholics (like the O’Neills) against the unionist Protestants, and Eileen is at the center of the animosity in the northern province of Ulster.  World War I detracts attention from the matter, but as soon as that war ends, another begins.  Eileen must deal with discrimination against Catholics in Ulster and is lucky to be employed by the Sheridans, who are Quakers who haven’t taken sides (though inside the mill, it’s a different story).  And after what transpired during her last night in the Yellow House, it’s no surprise that Eileen gets swept up in the Cause.

Just as Ireland is torn between independence and British rule, Eileen is torn between two men.  James Conlon, an IRA fighter under Michael Collins, is just as hot-headed as Eileen.  Owen Sheridan, meanwhile, is an officer in the British Army who opposes the violence and hopes to temper it.  James is passionate and selfish, having been coddled by his mother his entire life.  Owen is gentle and contemplative, having seen more than enough violence in The Great War.

Falvey’s characters really came to life for me.  All of them are flawed and hurting, and just as Ireland changed and grew over the years, so did they.  I think that’s what I love best about historical novels that cover a long stretch of time.  The Yellow House is set between 1905 and 1924, a tumultuous period in Ireland’s history.  Eileen gets caught up in the chaos, and through James and Owen, sees both sides of the fight.  How can she not be affected?  Even when I disagreed with Eileen’s actions (which was often), I could see where she was coming from.  Her family was torn apart, loyalties were being tested.  The Yellow House became a symbol of unity, peace, and happiness, so how could I fault her for not abandoning the dream?

The Yellow House covers so much ground; Falvey touches upon politics, war, religion, working conditions in the mills, gender roles, mental illness, and of course, family and secrets.  She does an excellent job explaining the complicated politics of Ireland before and after the treaty that created Northern Ireland and the violence that ensued.  (I probably would have enjoyed Sebastian Barry’s A Long Long Way more had I read this book first.)  Even the love triangle was handled in such a way that, while predictable, it didn’t overshadow the history.  For its brave but blemished heroine and for personalizing Ireland’s struggle, The Yellow House is another novel that definitely will be on my list of favorite books read this year.

Book 7 for the WWI Reading Challenge

Book 14 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Yellow House from Hachette Book Group for review purposes. Yep, working my way through old review copies. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (Second Edition, 1997) edited by the late British poet Jon Silkin features poems from numerous poets who served on the front lines, some of whom were prophetic in predicting their own deaths in battle, giving a haunting quality to the verses.  There are poems translated from German, French, Italian, Russian, and Hebrew, and in the introduction, Silkin said he selected these based on the English versions.  He adds that the second edition was revised to include poems by women.  Silkin states that he chose the poems for the anthology based on what he deemed good, noting that “the reader will be correct in thinking that the more poems there are by a poet, the more highly I think of him (translated works excepted).” (page 74)

Before I discuss the poems, I want to say a few things about the introduction, which at 77 pages was the longest I’d come across in an anthology.  I admit to skimming and skipping because it was (sorry to say) boring, too heavily focused on the work of Wilfred Owen, and featured too much discussion of meter and form.  I did study meter and form in college, but these days I read poetry to simply enjoy the language and imagery and not think about how many beats there are per line.  Still, I can appreciate that Silkin included a wide range of poetic styles.  Moreover, since I took a course on the English Romantic Poets, I thought it was interesting how he made comparisons between the works of Wordsworth and Coleridge and the poetry of The Great War.

Looking at the list of poets included in the anthology, it’s obvious that Silkin is a fan of Edward Thomas, Edmund Blunden, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and Isaac Rosenberg because of the number of their poems he included.  He also features the work of Thomas Hardy, Robert Graves, Rudyard Kipling, E.E. Cummings, D.H. Lawrence, Carl Sandburg, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, to name a handful.

There are so many poems in The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry that it’s impossible to mention them all, but there are some common themes throughout the collection.  Religion and patriotism come to mind right away.  These poems also touch upon a soldier’s disillusionment and the sadness and the anger that rise to the surface when they begin to question why they are fighting.

I have been young, and now am not too old;
And I have seen the righteous forsaken,
His health, his honour and his quality taken.
This is not what we were formerly told. (from Edmund Blunden’s “Report on Experience,” page 113)

Common Form

If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied. (from Rudyard Kipling’s “Epitaphs of the War (1914-18),” page 136)

And after witnessing the effects of a gas attack:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori. (from Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” page 193)

In “Lament,” F.S. Flint writes about young men going off to war, but there is no excitement, no being gung-ho about going off to serve one’s country and fight the enemy.

The young men of the world
Are condemned to death.
They have been called up to die
For the crimes of their fathers. (page 147)

The shift from excitement at the beginning of the war to despair and anguish after they have seen fighting is best summed up in Siegfried Sassoon’s “Glory of Women,” which takes a harsh look at the patriotism on the home front.

You love us when we’re heroes, home on leave,
Or wounded in a mentionable place.
You worship decorations; you believe
That chivalry redeems the war’s disgrace. (page 132)

But even the women soon feel the impact of the fighting and understand the senseless loss. May Wedderburn Cannan’s “Lamplight” is so sad in that war took away their hopes and dreams along with the men they loved.

We planned a great Empire together, you and I,
Bound only by the sea;
Now in the quiet of a chill Winter’s night
Your voice comes hushed to me
Full of forgotten memories: you and I
Dreamed great dreams of our futures in those days, (page 151)

Of course, no anthology of war poetry would be complete without a description of the horrors of the trenches and the lasting impact of all that the soldiers saw and did.

‘Well, as to that, the nastiest job I’ve had
Was last year on this very front
Taking the discs at night from men
Who’d hung for six months on the wire
Just over there.
The worst of all was
They fell to pieces at a touch.
Thank God we couldn’t see their faces;
They had gas helmets on…’ (from Richard Aldington’s “Trench Idyll,” page 143)

One of my favorite poems in this collection, Edgell Rickword’s “Winter Warfare,” personifies winter and the freeze that covered the trenches.

Colonel Cold strode up the Line
(tabs of rime and spurs of ice);
stiffened all that met his glare:
horses, men, and lice. (page 139)

As in all wars, the mental and physical state of the veterans is an important consideration. The men did heroic things in battle, were courageous under fire, but war takes a toll and breaks these heroes down, and some cannot show how broken they are on the inside.

Where are they now, on state-doles, or showing shop-patterns
Or walking to town sore in borrowed tatterns
Or begged. Some civic routine one never learns.
The heart burns — but has to keep out of face how heart burns. (from Ivor Gurney’s “Strange Hells,” page 119)

Although there is diversity among the poetic styles and the poets’ experiences, each of the poems in The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry lead to the same conclusion:  that war is hell.  It makes me wonder how many of these poets were poets before, and how many used poetry as a way to deal with the loss, anger, and haunting memories tied to the war.  Some of the poems made me feel like I was staring into the poet’s soul.  I am in awe of men and women who can put such awful tragedies into words, and I believe that war poetry is among the most powerful and vivid, bringing to life the internal and external struggles in a way that non-fiction and prose cannot.

Hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

Book 2 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge

Book 6 for the WWI Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I won The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry in a giveaway on Savvy Verse & Wit ages ago. It’s about time I read it! I am an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Maisie ended the call and left for the station.  She wondered how she had become so much more adept at telling lies since she signed the Official Secrets Act.  But then, secrets and lies always went together.

(from A Lesson in Secrets, page 208)

I can’t believe I waited so long to read a Maisie Dobbs book!  Given the setting of the series between the world wars, I’ve long been wanting to start it, but I honestly wouldn’t have started reading it right now except for the fact that its the April pick for my book club and I was offered a spot on the Maisie Dobbs blog tour.  If you’ve been waiting as long as me to give this series a try, trust me, you’ll want to drop everything right now and get started.

A Lesson in Secrets is the 8th book in Jacqueline Winspear‘s series about Maisie Dobbs, a psychologist and investigator based in post-World War I London.  Maisie runs her own private detective agency, where she works with her assistant, the endearing Billy Beale.  There’s a lot going on in this book, and Winspear wastes no time getting into the action, as the first line indicates that Maisie is being followed.  Maisie is soon tapped for an undercover assignment with the British Secret Service in which she becomes a junior lecturer in philosophy at the College of St. Francis in Cambridge.  The college was founded by Greville Liddicote, a pacifist who wrote a children’s book during World War I that, according to rumors, caused a mutiny on the Western Front.

Maisie is supposed to watch the comings and goings of the various faculty members and report on any activities not in the interests of the Crown and government.  Her job becomes more exciting and demanding when Liddicote is murdered, and she is expected to stand back and let Scotland Yard handle the murder investigation.  Of course, Maisie isn’t going to relegate herself to the sidelines, so thankfully her assignment puts her in direct contact with numerous people who may have wanted Liddicote dead.

Meanwhile, Maisie is trying to get her father to move from his cottage to the house she inherited from her late mentor, and she takes advantage of her new found wealth and a boom in home construction to help Billy and his family move out of a shady section of the city — but she has her work cut out for her given her father’s and Billy’s stubbornness.  There’s a mystery involving the death of the husband of one of Maisie’s friends, a young woman who is now homeless and jobless and turns to Maisie for help, and Maisie also contemplates her relationship with James Compton and whether or not she’s ready to take the next step.

Winspear truly is a talented writer, and I still can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read her work.  She juggles multiple storylines and numerous, complex characters with ease.  It’s never difficult to follow the various threads of the story, and I was impressed by how she made connections between the characters and Liddicote.  Best of all, I had no idea whodunnit until it was revealed in the narrative, which kept me plowing through the pages long after my bedtime.

A Lesson in Secrets can be read as a stand-alone book, and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything from the prior books.  However, I bet it would have been a richer experience if I’d read all the previous books first, especially in terms of Maisie’s relationship with James and her connections to the other characters.  I think I got to know Maisie well enough through this book — she’s an independent woman who knows both poverty and wealth and is scarred (literally and figuratively) by her service as a nurse in World War I — but I’m definitely going to go back to the beginning to see what I’ve missed.

The setting itself could be considered a character.  It’s 1932, and Hitler’s Nazi Party is coming to power in Germany.  Maisie thinks emerging support for the Nazis in England is a concern, though she is dismissed by her superiors.  Of course, we know Maisie has cause for concern, and I hope this is all revealed in future books in the series.  I also was captivated by the connections to World War I through a seemingly simple children’s book.  Winspear provides much food for thought about pacifism, the treatment of conscientious objectors during the war when everyone was geared up to fight, and how people who had seen the outcome of the war could ignore what was going on in Germany in 1932.

A Lesson in Secrets was a delightful read, one that made me excited about mysteries again, probably because of the war-related connections and the character of Maisie.  The story is old fashioned in that it takes place in the 1930s, but Maisie is very much a modern woman, and I love that about her.  I can’t wait to discuss it with my book club next month, and I can’t wait to read more about Maisie Dobbs.  She’s become one of my favorite literary characters, and I’ve only read one book in the series so far!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the blog tour for A Lesson in Secrets. To follow the March is Maisie Dobbs Month tour, click here.

Book 5 for the WWI Reading Challenge

Book 9 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of A Lesson in Secrets from HarperCollins for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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When they came into their trench he felt small enough.  The biggest thing there was the roaring of Death and the smallest thing was a man.  Bombs not so far off distressed the earth of Belgium, disgorged great heaps of it, and did everything except kill him immediately, as he half expected them to do.

(from A Long Long Way, page 24)

Sebastian Barry’s 2005 novel A Long Long Way centers on Willie Dunne, a young man from Dublin who is just 18 years old when he signs up to fight in World War I at its outbreak in 1914.  The son of a policeman, Dunne could not follow in his father’s footsteps because he never grew to the required height of 6 feet, so he sets out to prove himself as a soldier.  Before leaving for the trenches in Belgium, Willie meets Gretta and falls in love, but she refuses to marry him until he knows his own mind.

With Gretta, his father, and his three younger sisters never far from his mind, Willie goes off to war.  He survives a poison gas attack — something the soldiers had never expected or ever witnessed — by running away, and he soon endures the pain of losing his comrades as hundreds and even thousands of men are wiped out in individual battles.

After enjoying a brief leave in 1916, Willie is on his way back to the front lines when a skirmish erupts in Dublin, and in the uniform of the English army, he is called upon to fight the rebels.  At first, he thinks the Germans have invaded, but then he realizes the rebels are his fellow Irishmen.  Confused about the politics in his own country and caught between the Great War and the struggle for Irish independence, Willie is not sure where his loyalties lie.  He is fighting to save Europe, but his uniform ends up separating him from his fellow countrymen, and his sadness about the executions following the Easter Rising angers his father.

When I finished A Long Long Way, five words came to mind when I though about how to describe this novel:  loyalties, confusion, innocence, horror, and loss.  Willie certainly is innocent when he first goes off to fight, innocent about politics, war, and even women.  He is confused about what’s going on in Ireland, and I can’t say I was any more enlightened than he was given that Barry writes as though the reader already has an understanding of the country’s history.  Willie definitely witnesses the horror of combat and knows the emptiness of loss on the battlefield and in his personal life.

Barry creates intriguing secondary characters in Christy Moran, a foul-mouthed but likeable sergeant-major with whom Willie serves, Pete O’Hara, whose story about a Belgian nun is horrifying, and Father Buckley, who put himself in danger to minister to the dying and the dead.  Barry also brilliantly describes the gas attacks, from the chaos to the fear.  Willie was an endearing and sympathetic character, and I though Barry did a great job making him real in that no matter how many times he faced death, he nearly always peed himself in fear.  Even the bravest soldiers are scared, and that comes through in this novel.

However, I wasn’t impressed with Barry’s writing style at the beginning.  It took me about five or six chapters to really get involved in the story, and even then I’d come across some descriptions I found to be too much, such as “daybreak like a row of sparkling dinner-knives” (page 105).  Moreover, I disliked the ending a great deal, as it felt like Barry backed himself into a corner, didn’t know how to get out, and saw fit to bayonet the unsuspecting reader.

Where A Long Long Way succeeds is in its portrayal of a divided Ireland and the tale of a young man not sure where he fits in.  It’s a coming of age story of a soldier who outlives most of his comrades and is an old man by the time he turns 21.  Barry doesn’t sugarcoat the hardships of the soldiers in the trenches or the brutal and tragic deaths that many men faced when they went over the top.  Willie Dunne indeed travels “a long long way” both in the course of the war and on an internal path toward knowing his own mind.  A Long Long Way is an interesting introduction to the battle for Irish independence and a chilling account of the trenches of World War I.

I read A Long Long Way for the Literature and War Readalong hosted by Beauty is a Sleeping Cat.

Book 4 for the WWI Reading Challenge

Book 7 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I borrowed A Long Long Way from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War by Peter Englund, translated from the Swedish by Peter Graves, uses the diaries, journals, and letters of 20 individuals who lived during and participated in The Great War to highlight their different experiences.  We already know the outcome of the war, about the massacres that took place, and how horrible life in the trenches was for the soldiers, but these individuals weren’t aware of all this when they were writing.  Englund gives readers a unique perspective of World War I, thrusting them into the moment amidst all the chaos and confusion at the beginning of the war and the hunger, exhaustion, and sadness toward the end.

Englund describes the war as seen through the eyes of a German schoolgirl, the American wife of a Polish aristocrat, a Scottish aid worker, a seaman in the German High Seas Fleet, a Hungarian cavalryman in the Austro-Hungarian army, a Russian army engineer, an English nurse in the Russian army, a Danish soldier in the German army, a French civil servant, two British army infantrymen, an Australian army engineer, a French army infantryman, a Venezuelan cavalryman in the Ottoman army, an American army field surgeon, a Belgian air force fighter pilot, an Australian driver in the Serbian army, an Italian-American infantryman in the Italian army, a New Zealand artilleryman in the British army, and a trooper in an Alpine regiment of the Italian army.  These individuals differ by sex, age, nationality, and occupation, so the assortment of experiences is both tremendous and fascinating.

The Beauty and the Sorrow reads like narrative non-fiction, with Englund giving some backstory and then inserting the individual’s actual words.  Readers learn about preparations for the war, how troops were mobilized and transported, what the soldiers carried, how the soldiers and locals interacted with one another, and what people ate as food became scarce.  Some of the individuals served on the front lines and/or witnessed hangings and massacres, while others tended to the wounded.  Some grew tired of the monotony and had nervous breakdowns.  Readers see how the early writings were by people excited and even eager to experience war, and the later writings by people who have seen too much and wish it would end already.

One of the most striking passages is from the diary of the German schoolgirl, Elfriede Kuhr, written in June 1917:

This war is a ghost in grey rags, a skull with maggots crawling out of it.  New, hard battles have been raging in the west in recent months.  We are fighting at Le Chemin des Dames, at Aisne and in Champagne.  The whole region is a field of ruins, blood and mud everywhere.  (page 369 in the uncorrected proof; final version may be different)

What I found most interesting in The Beauty and the Sorrow was how people perceived changes in women because of the war.  There is talk about how women were engaging in less-than-moral behavior, sometimes out of pity for the soldiers who were probably going off to die.  There was an increase in extra-marital pregnancies and illegal abortions, along with a rise in prostitution and sexually-transmitted diseases.  Some blamed the change in women’s behavior on the fact that they were taking over jobs once held by men who had since gone off to war and that they were being “masculinized.”  Meanwhile, with troops amassing in certain areas, it is not surprising that the sex industry in these areas was given a boost.  What I found interesting were stories about how the men actually chose infected prostitutes over healthy ones so they would catch a venereal disease and not have to serve on the front lines.  A trade in “gonococcal pus” began as a result.  (Nasty!)

The Beauty and the Sorrow‘s strength is that it details the experiences of a diverse group of people, but this strength is also its biggest weakness.  Though the book was interesting and informative, it was also tedious and even boring at times.  Its structure also makes it difficult to follow.  Rather than tell the story of each person separately, Englund divides the book into sections, one for each year from 1914 to 1918, and assembles their diaries, journals, and letters chronologically so that there is a constant shift from one individual to another.  If there hadn’t been a list of the individuals at the beginning of the book, I would have been completely lost; I was constantly flipping back and forth to keep track.

Moreover, I don’t have extensive knowledge of the various armies that fought during World War I, the politics of the countries involved, the movement of the troops, or the numerous battles that took place.  This information is detailed through the writings of the individuals included in the book, but there is little explanation from the author as to what is going on.  So I felt a little lost and bored when it came to military strategy.

However, The Beauty and the Sorrow succeeds in showcasing the experiences and hardships of different people during wartime, from those who fought on the front lines to those who did their part at home.  I felt like I got to know who these people were, and I was saddened when I found out over the course of the book that certain people were killed or went missing.  I liked how Englund tells where each of the people were when the war ended, so all the ends were tied up.  I have a great respect for the author because sorting through the writings of 20 people over a period of years and putting it into some kind of order must have been a colossal undertaking.  Even though I was a bit overwhelmed by all the information, I believe it’s an important book.  Given that the start of the war was nearly 100 years ago, it’s crucial that we preserve the experiences and stories of those who lived it.

Book 3 for the WWI Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Beauty and the Sorrow from Regal Literary for review. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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